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Election Day observers coming from Justice Department over ADA complaints

That’s a complicated headline for this story.

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Six teams of Justice Department officials will be dispatched to observe Election Day voting at 75 polling locations in Harris County as part of an investigation into allegations that the county failed to provide reasonable access to mobility-impaired voters.

Harris County will field its own teams on Election Day as part of an arrangement approved Thursday by U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett.

Bennett, however, told county officials that he found it “deeply disturbing” that Justice Department observers saw a visibly armed county investigator with a badge filming an elderly African-American woman with a walker entering a polling place this week for early voting.

“That’s voter intimidation,” the judge said, ordering the Harris County Attorney’s Office to provide written notice explaining how it plans to avoid a repeat of the scenario.

The filming was meant to record the accessibility of the site, a county attorney said, explaining she was surprised to hear the investigator was in close proximity to voters and that his sidearm was visible.

The judge also asked whether there had been any complaints of ADA violations during early voting, which began Monday in Texas. Harris County officials said it had neither seen nor heard of any, but the Justice Department legal team said it knew of four complaints so far, in addition to the incident of the woman with the walker.

The details were revealed during a hearing Thursday in Houston in a Justice Department lawsuit accusing the county of civil violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it doesn’t provide appropriate parking, ramps, sidewalks, entry ways, voting space and other mandatory accommodations at voting sites.

The county says it has fielded no such complaints and denies its polling sites are out of compliance with ADA regulations.

“They have taken the position that there is a systemic problem,” said Laura Beckman Hedge of the Harris County Attorney’s Office. “We believe this is a fishing expedition.”

See here for the background. Basically, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit back in August that charged Harris County with not having sufficient access to polling places for disabled voters. They had previously notified the Harris County Clerk in 2014 of the problems they had identified, and filed the lawsuit after not receiving an answer that satisfied them in time. This was the first activity that I know of related to this lawsuit since then. Obviously, nothing is going to be resolved before this election, but it will be interesting to see what the Justice Department’s findings are afterwards, and how the county responds to them.

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5 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    People are upset when polling location changes, yet ADA laws are used to cow folks responsible for putting on the polling places into changing locations to avoid running afoul of ADA laws.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    *their

  3. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Disingenuous to make such a claim Bill, Stan Stanart has had years to correct the problem, it did not occur yesterday. Stan Stanard messed up on purpose is my belief. They were afraid that what is occurring would occur. There are rumors that Republican supervisors are telling their employees working the early votes no speak to non English speakers unless they specifically ask for help. Other rumors are that the same of other supervisors are telling employees that they can only communicate in English among themselves.

    Like I have stated previously, the Republicans have shown the extend of their racism, bigotry, and xenophobic behavior with the rise of Trump.

    I know that you Bill like to question everything, so I have a link that shows that Harris County was well aware of the problem.

    https://www.ada.gov/harris_county_lof.htm

    Stan Stanart has shown that he is not qualified to be be neutral as the head of the elections here in Harris County.

  4. Ross says:

    I am not going ot beat up Stanart on the ADA issue. After looking at the list of locations that were out of compliance, and using Google maps to look at the locations, and the precinct maps available from Stanart, it’s obvious that no one will be happy with any of the outcomes. Many of the non-compliant locations were the only available place in the precinct, and were convenient for the people who live there. The locations will be moved outside the precinct, and will make voting far harder for folks without a car. As for the schools that were non-compliant, the issue needs to be addressed by the school districts.

  5. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Ross you are correct as to your analysis, but I will continue to beat on Stan Stanart as he is in charge. He knew or should have known that the locations were to be changed. Many people will go to vote at those closed location on November 8th and find that they have no place to vote. Is Stanart doing anything to tell people other than by looking it up on his website? Or being reading it in the Chronicle. Where I live at probably half the persons do not use online searches and if they do they have no idea as how to searches. The area is comprised of many elderly white persons and minority voters.

    Who is responsible for telling people? I could do it but it would cost me hundreds of dollars to mail out notices to them. It is his responsibility. In fact he did not even give notice to the precinct judges that were to be effected in a timely manner. Well at least not the pct judges that are Democrats, he may had different criteria for Republican voting areas. I believe he would do such a thing as discriminate based on Party.